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Red Contributor

James Webster


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James main work at present is focused on Tāmoko but he is also as a maker of taonga puoro, musician and composer.

James Webster is of Tainui and Te Arawa (Māori) and European descent and is well known as a talented Māori arts practitioner, working with many mediums including wood, bone and stone (sculpting and carving) as well as paint, fibre and metal (mixed media) and Tāmoko (body adornment / tribal tattoo).

James is based in Coromandel and is the owner/operator of the Tahaa, Tāmoko Studio and Māori Arts.

One of Websters passions is the making and playing of Taonga Puoro (singing treasures / Māori Musical Instruments). Taonga Puoro, like the Māori language, reflects the sounds and rhythms of nature and the environment. One of the traditional uses of taonga pūoro was in the art of healing through music. These traditional instruments have whakapapa (genealogy) and pūrakau (origin stories).

Over the past 30 years there has been a revival of the craft of Taonga Puoro. Webster is a member of the group Haumanu which is dedicated to the revival - teaching and sharing of these taonga through instrument making and musical and artistic performances.

Webster has performed in concerts as well as conferences and tutored at Wānanga (places of learning) in Aotearoa and abroad. He was a member of the Aotearoa delegation at the Pacific Arts Festivals in 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and in 2020.

James is a member of a Taonga Puoro group called "Reo" whose genre of music is a mixture of Taonga Puoro, chanting and Digital Audio Textiles. Reo is voice - the human voice, the voices of our instruments, the voice of the natural world. In the traditional worldview the entire natural world is a 'voice', a voice, a music, a reo.

'Kei a te Pa te timatanga o te waiatatanga mai a te Atua. Ko te Ao, ko te Ao-mārama, ko te Ao-tūroa.'

'It was in the night that the Gods sang the world into existence.' Matiaha Tiramorehu 1849

One the the greatest passions of the last 20 years of 'James' artistic career has been the making and playing of Taonga Puoro (Māori musical instruments). Taonga Puoro, like Te Reo Māori, reflects the natural sounds and rhythms of nature and the environment. The instruments have whakapapa (genealogies) and purakau (origin stories) pertaining to the many families of instruments and the individual varieties of instruments associated with Taonga Puoro.

Historically, and in varying degrees in modern times, Taonga Puoro was used in the arts of healing and cultural ceremony. Due to historical events there was a decline in the use and cultural practice of the instrument traditions within Māori culture and with the knowledge base connected to it. There has been a revival of this craft over the last 30 years, led by the late Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns, Brian Flintoff and Ranginui Keefe to name a few. A group named Haumanu has grown from these initiatives. The group (of which James is a part) is deidcated to the revival, teaching, and sharing of these taonga (treasures).

Haumanu This 7 part documentary series examines the many whānau (family) groupings that make up the sounds of Taonga Puoro. Told from the perspective of selected experts throughout the motu, we take the audience on a practical rhythmic journey with knowledgeable people into the ancient sounds and instruments of Taonga Puoro. With this series we endeavour to take Taonga Puoro out of the glass museum cases and into the lives and homes of our audience. This series will enhance and support the revival through a beautifully shot, sound designed informative program.